For those who try and inevitably fail to stop Breanna Stewart—you have my empathy. Consistently one of the best, if not the best, in the WNBA, Stewie is impossible to contain. What matters is that nothing matters: you cannot slow down Breanna Stewart.
Conventional wisdom would say to cut off her favorite spot on the floor. What makes Stewart so tough? She doesn’t have a favorite spot. According to WNBA Stats, over two-thirds of Stewie’s shot attempts last season came from inside the arc. Consequently, just over half of her points came from that area, too; so, Stewie likes to operate from two-point range. Furthermore, she scored 11.1 percent of her points from mid-range, 27.1 percent from three, 13.9 percent on the fast break, and 39.7 percent from the paint. She’s also not much of an isolation player, with 80.9 percent of her points being assisted from inside the arc, compared to 94.0 percent from distance. Put simply, Stewart is a unicorn on the court, capable of scoring from anywhere and everywhere.
It doesn’t matter what you try; she’s going to change her plan to find a better way to facilitate or score. A lot of credit goes to Seattle Storm head coach Noelle Quinn for their offensive sets, but more credit goes to Stewart for knowing how to get open and create advantageous scoring chances for herself.
Take a look at Stewie’s shooting chart from the 2022 season.
Last season, Stewie accomplished most of her scoring right in the paint—1.441 points per possession (PPP) at the rim, within the 94th percentile for all players in the league, according to Synergy Sports. On postups, she was in the 62nd percentile. On put backs, 93rd percentile. What’s clear here is Stewie loves going to the rim for easier looks. For the season, she had the highest PPP among players who had at least 10 possessions per game.
You: Let’s try doubling her down in the paint to slow her down!
Stewie: *scores in the 89th percentile for PPP when hard doubled in the paint*
She’s such a gifted passer, too, such that if the double doesn’t come quickly enough, she’ll kick the ball out to a teammate for an open shot.
In conclusion: good luck, everyone.
However, for argument’s sake, let’s pretend there is a way to stop or slow down Stewart. For all you tortured souls (defenders and coaches alike) out there, read on. Then, maybe, just maybe, you’ll stand a chance.
But don’t count on it.
Don’t Play a Zone Against Her
You could try a zone, preventing her from beating a single defender off the dribble. However, against zones last season—which she didn’t see often—Stewart torched teams with well over a point per possession and over two in spot-up shooting situations. Stewart also had the seventh best PPP in the league against the zone among players with at least 10 possessions against the zone.
It’s no wonder Stewie saw very few zones last season and, frankly, should continue to see them as little as possible.
Don’t Let Her Get Out in Transition
This should be obvious, yet still impossible to stop. When Stewie gets the defensive rebound and turns it into a quick score on the other end, it all feels pretty hopeless.
The league did a decent enough job last season in preventing these chances, with the aforementioned 13.9 percent of her scoring last season documenting that. She certainly isn’t the quickest player, but her instincts and basketball acumen make her a lethal combination—a strong defensive rebounder and rim runner in transition. Last season, Stewart averaged 1.246 PPP with 1.39 points per shot (PPS) in transition, meaning she scored 0.27 more PPS than expected.
The league would be wise to continue trimming that 13.9 percent down as far as superhumanly possible.
Maybe Try Some Press
It’s interesting basketball teams don’t work to press more. Perhaps with the pace of play increasing so rapidly over the past few years, it’s hard to get a decent press set before the team inbounds and rushes up the court. The league as whole only pressed on average 1.9 percent of possessions defensively last season.
But in that very small sample size, a possible trend did appear. In the 10 possessions last season where she faced a press, Stewart mustered a 0.500 PPP, placing in the seventh percentile. This is too small a sample size to draw any definitive claims, but if you’re trying to find something— anything—to cling to in your quest to stop Breanna Stewart, this might be a place to start.
Don’t Let Stewie Go Left
Stewart drove left 62.1 percent of her possessions last season. Might this be an area to exploit?
|Breanna Stewart’s Five Worst Play Types, by Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%)|
|Play Type||Shot Type||eFG%||PPP||Percentile|
|Right Block, Left Shoulder Post Up||No Dribble||16.7||0.500||62nd|
|Handoff Off Dribble||Pull Up||23.5||0.526||7th|
|Right Block Post Up||All||27.3||0.684||62nd|
|Offscreen Dribble Right||Pull Up||36.0||0.717||80th|
|Drives Left Spot Up||Dribble Spot Up||36.4||0.750||8th|
Amongst the five worst play types last season for Stewart, ordered by her effective field goal percentage, you can see the right side of the court is not necessarily Stewart’s strongest side.
Both shot charts above would support that notion. In the first, despite a fairly small sample size, Stewie’s corner threes from the right side are below league average. This is supported by the second chart.
So your plan now is to force Stewart to dribble to her right side. Easier said than done, right? You better tell your defender not to close off her right hand; that’s as good a place to start as any. But you might also want to find your most athletic, lengthiest wing player to get physical with her. Get underneath her and in her space early when she’s still reading the defense along the three-point arc. If you can get her to take a contested, mid-range three (“only” in the 67th percentile for PPP from mid-range), you might have a chance at slowing her down.
In Game 2 of their playoff series against the Storm, the Washington Mystics put several different defenders on Stewie, trying to give her different looks and force her into mistakes. Needless to say, it didn’t work; but, as noted in the video above, on the very few possessions point guard Natasha Cloud guarded Stewie, Cloud got physical early and higher on the court. In one of the rare isolation plays from Stewart all year, Cloud holds her own. Cloud shuts off and prevents Stewart from going to her preferred left, forcing her into a contested, lower quality shot.
Can You Take Away Her Teammates?
Sure, you could try; they were certainly talented, but not Stewart-level good. But then, this happens:
Seattle was third in the league in eFG% this past season. Go ahead and pick your poison. Odds are you’re losing either way.
Can You Force More Dribble Handoffs (DHOs)?
While only done in 2.6 percent of all possessions, Stewart scored 0.591 PPP (ninth-lowest among players with at least 10 DHO possessions). She also had 0.55 PPS, 0.40 below expected. This certainly isn’t enough to say she’s bad off the DHO, but, like the press, this could be an avenue for you to try and exploit. For what it’s worth, Seattle as a team scored 0.693 PPP out of the DHO, which is rated as poor, according to Synergy Sports.
Take What You Can Get
Other than guarded jump shots, where she is still within the (pretty strong) 65th percentile, Stewart is in the 78th percentile or higher for all shots in her offensive bag. There’s a reason she’s already been a MVP and is perennially in the conversation. She scored an impressive 0.14 PPP above expected across all shots last year. For comparison’s sake, 2022 MVP A’ja Wilson scored 0.8 PPP above expected.
Stewart is a phenomenal talent, so coaches know there’s no shame in trying and routinely failing to stop her. Defenders each night are powerless to stop her from driving, only to watch her cut weakside to the basket at the perfect time. Stewart is so good at finding the open spaces on the floor in her off-ball movement that it takes immense defensive energy and focus just to know where she is at any given moment. No wonder teams struggle endlessly to guard her.
All you can do is try and force the ball out of her hands and hope her teammates fail to produce. Otherwise, you need to get physical with her early and get underneath her without fouling (although she was only 39th in the league at opponents’ fouls drawn per game last season, according to WNBA Stats).
Remember, too, that Stewie can’t play the whole game, even if she was 14th in minutes per game last season, according to WNBA Stats. At some point, getting physical and making life stressful will slow her down; short of stealing her equipment, I’m not sure what else you can do.
Sometimes, though, and maybe more often than not…nothing you do matters. Stewie gonna Stewie.
All stats as of 1/29. Unless otherwise noted, all stats courtesy of Synergy Sports.
Seattle fan here. This is really depressing.